Lessons learned from conserving metal thread embroidery in the Esterhazy Collection, Budapest, Hungary

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Toth, Marta;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number S1, p.305-312 (2012)


The Esterházy Collection, which includes masterpieces of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European and Ottoman textiles and goldsmiths' work, is the most valuable collection in the Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, Hungary. The collection remained in fairly good condition until the Second World War when it was evacuated to the cellars of an Esterházy palace, which collapsed under heavy bombardment in 1944. The treasures lay in the muddy ruins until 1948, when their remains were transferred to the museum. The conservators did their best to provide basic, rapid cleaning but the methods used were not appropriate in every case. However, cleaning and conservation activities have continued since the early 1950s. Most textiles are decorated with metal threads, with gilded silver, and silver threads serving as weft and warp, and as the basic materials of lace, trimmings, buttons, and strings. Metal threads were used extensively on the richly embroidered saddle-cloths described in this paper. Most of the artefacts suffered irreversible changes during the time they spent underground: textile backings deteriorated, resulting in the detachment and deformation of the metal thread embroidery. This paper shares the experience gained in cleaning, conserving, and restoring the saddle-cloths, and explains the complex and sometimes insoluble problems encountered with the metal thread embroideries.